Crew chiefs face daunting task

A lot of people are asking what is wrong with the No. 14 team and Tony Stewart.

I really think it’s just a case right now of bad luck.

At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he battled most of the day to overcome a problem on pit road. He had the most dominant car that day, but in trying to get back up front his team had to make some hard calls on pit strategy. Unfortunately the best he could get back up to was second.

Sunday at Auto Club Speedway found Tony in somewhat the same situation. He probably should have come to pit road, but didn’t during a late-race sequence. It ended up working against him instead of in his favor. Obviously it has been a frustrating turn of events for this team overall in these first five races.

I think they will have to go back and re-evaluate where they are and what they need to do to correct things.

With the exception of the race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the car has been fast and he has been a contender. He has run really well but doesn’t have the finishes to show for it. His teammate Ryan Newman is running really well this season, too.

The No. 14 team has to be frustrated because they have let three races basically slip through their fingers. Maybe there were a couple races where it wasn’t the right decision on pit road or right decision by the driver. You can make a case for a lot of things, but they have to be careful not to overreact.

It’s this kind of adversity that, in my book, will either make or break this team. It’s early in the season and they’ve had some opportunities slip through their fingers. Everyone knows these kind of opportunities don’t come around every weekend. You simply aren’t going to be competitive week in and week out. When you miss opportunities, well, they really eat at you and eat you up.

Don’t forget that Tony wears two hats. He is the owner and the driver. Trust me, from the driver side of things, the driver is pissed right now. As the driver, Tony has to ask his team what they are going to do to fix this.

Remember, on Monday morning everyone is a genius with their 20-20 hindsight. Late-race calls like we saw Sunday in Fontana make or break a race team. I talked to Carl Edwards after the race. The call they made allowed him to get a great finish and take the points lead. Matt Kenseth came to pit road, only took two tires and finished fourth. That was the right call for him.

In Tony’s situation, he has to weigh out what went on. Did he give enough information back to his crew chief or did the crew chief simply make a bad call? Kevin Harvick and crew chief Gil Martin are heroes. Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus have to feel pretty good about how things went. If you ask Kyle Busch and his crew chief Dave Rogers, I am pretty sure they will tell you they would like to have a “do over.”

Tony’s in the same box as Kyle. We’re focusing on Tony obviously because he fell the most.

Truth be known, Kyle Busch feels no worse than Tony. That’s just trying to be fair to everyone. They are both very disgusted drivers. These drivers simply want to win. They don’t want to drive for points. Everybody is racing for the trophy.

Trust me, as a former crew chief I know what these guys are going through. You know as a crew chief that the buck stops with you. The verbal confrontations after a race on the radio can be extremely brutal. We know that’s our job and we are there to take it.

That being said, crew chiefs are human, too, and it hurts when you know everyone that is listening to your channel hears you get your butt ripped by the driver. It hurts your pride. It hurts your ego and confidence.

When you feel like you’ve made a mistake on a call that hurt your driver who gave you 110 percent on any given Sunday, well, it hurts. The butt ripping you get from him after it is over goes with the territory.

This is why I think the No. 14 team is at a crossroads. How they handle this will define how they move forward. It will either make them a championship-contending team or the seeds have been sown to eventually tear them apart.

Darrell Waltrip used to do me the same way back in the day. It’s the heat of the moment. He and I had an agreement that what was said on Sunday was forgotten on Monday. That was the most important part.

Tony Stewart is experienced enough and his crew chief is smart enough to know they simply need to work through it together and move forward.